26.11.2021
Blogs

"Men CAN stop violence against women - but it's up to us to stop turning a blind eye"

Categories
Violence against women
Employment support
trade union
sexual harassment
workplace culture
UN Women
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Much of the reaction to the murder of Sarah Everard focused on what women can do to protect themselves. But surely there is a duty on men to behave better?

We asked Paul Nowak, deputy General Secretary for his views – and he makes a compelling case for men to behave better, to be prepared to challenge their colleagues and take responsibility.

Like everyone, I have read the details of what happened to Sarah Everard with sadness and horror, feelings compounded by the recent brutal murder of primary school teacher Sabina Nessa.

As a trade unionist, what really stood out for me was the workplace culture revealed in the Met – the UK’s biggest police force. We learned that Sarah’s murderer was nicknamed 'the rapist'. We learned that he indecently exposed himself at work. That he used violent porn. That his colleagues knew he bought sex - one woman even turned up at his station asking to be paid.

The murderer’s managers and colleagues knew that the man who went on to kill Sarah Everard had troubling and misogynistic attitudes to women. But they did not act to stop him abusing his power. And then it was too late.

It is clear that there needs to be a major change to the culture of the police, and to police vetting - alongside a huge expansion of work to support survivors of abuse, and new rules to make the police prioritise violence against women.

But it goes beyond the Police force. If you look at the life histories of men who murder women, there are usually warning signs. A dismissive attitude to women, inappropriate behaviour to women at work, indecent exposure, sexual assault, a history of domestic abuse – all are common.

And that’s where men have to step up – and step in.

Lots of men work in workplaces where their male colleagues daily make women feel unsafe.

When young women were asked, nearly all of them (97%) said they had experienced sexual harassment. Too many women experience unwanted comments and jokes, implicit threats, bullying and being exposed to porn at work. For some that escalates to unwanted touching, violence and sexual assault.

Sometimes colleagues and managers turn a blind eye to this behaviour. The worker who everyone knows can’t be left alone in the stockroom with a young woman. The driver who shouts at women and girls walking down the street. Inappropriate sexualised jokes that humiliate and silence women dismissed as “banter”. Aggressive shouting down of women in meetings. Porn shared in workplaces.

When decent men don’t speak up and challenge this unacceptable behaviour, it emboldens abusers and gives them permission to carry on.

So here is the most important thing we can do to prevent violence against women: be prepared to challenge our male colleagues.

No one is saying it’s easy. It’s much more comfortable to ignore it, laugh along, or let it go. But this is the culture that breeds misogyny and leads to violence against women.

Challenging unacceptable behaviour, challenging those who demean and denigrate women is our responsibility.

Stepping up sends a clear message that you don’t agree with what is going on. It shifts what people consider acceptable – and helps stop inappropriate behaviour. And that makes women safer.

So: when you see something inappropriate – do something about it. Call it out. Get others to support you. Escalate it if you need to. If you can’t do it in the moment, write down what you saw and take it up later. If a woman is in immediate risk – confront it, report it, get help.

And work with your union and colleagues to make your workplace safe for women. Soon the government will make employers legally responsible for preventing sexual harassment. Let’s get in there early and negotiate strong policies, set out acceptable behaviour and make sure there are ways for women to report sexual harassment safely, without fear of retribution.

Building a culture where women are safe starts with men. Men can step up. We can challenge our colleagues and friends. And we can stop sexual harassment escalating into more dead women.

Paul Nowak is Deputy General Secretary of the TUC and was a speaker at this year’s Royal College of Podiatry Conference.

If you want assistance on any matter in your workplace, contact us on employmentsupport@rcpod.org.uk

The Royal College of Podiatry is proud to support the work of UN Women during its 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. For more information about this campaign, click here.